In Exo 32.21-23, Moses asks Aaron what the people did to him to make him be involved in this great sin. He was disappointed in his brother, even shocked. Moses didn’t even know his brother evidently. He says they are prone to evil (the people) and they came to him to make an “Elohim” for them. In Exo 32.24-25 he says that he asked the people for gold and they gave it to him. Then he “threw it into the fire and out came this calf.” He makes excuses and blames something else. Adam and Chava do the same thing when they sinned. But, that is what we do.
How many times have we shown someone the the truth in Scripture, and they don’t, or won’t, see it. Maybe it is because they have been raised in a certain tradition. How many times have people shown us the truth of Scripture and we don’t, or won’t, see it. We like to point fingers, but we are guilty of what Aaron, Adam and Chava did. This chapter has similarities to Gen 3.
Aaron let things get “out of control” and it will be a scandal among their enemies because of God’s punishment. Exo 32.26 says that Moses stood in the “gate of the camp.” We tend to think that the camp was in a loose fashion. However, it is believed that the camp was arranged in the form of a cross. You had three tribes to the north with 157,600 people. Then you had 151,450 people to the south and 186,400 to the east, and 108,000 to the west. The Mishkan was at the center and around it, to the east, the sons of Aaron camped. To the north Merari was camped, to the south it was Kohath, and to the west was Gershom.
No wonder Balaam said in Num 22.41 that he could see a “portion of the people.” In Num 23.10 Balaam says, “Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the fourth part of Israel.” This tells us they camped in four parts, and one part was bigger than the others (the east part with 186,400 people). In Num 23.13 it says that Balak said to Balaam, “Please come with me where you may see them (camped), although you will only see the extreme end of them” (the portion in 22.41 and 23.10).
There was a structure and a form to how they camped, and it looked like a cross from above. In movies and in pictures they will show them camping anywhere they wanted, with the Mishkan in the middle somewhere. But that cannot be true. In the form of a cross, you had four corps arranged for security if attacked. An attacking army would have problems attacking this formation. You also had a shorter walk to go outside the camp to relieve yourself or to gather wood, etc. They had avenues and could have the back of their tents in one direction, not facing each other for privacy.
Toward the perimeter there was a “wall” or some structure of bushes, stone or something that could be a barrier. There were “gates” (v 26) for security with guards. Moses tells the Levites to go from “gate to gate in the camp and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor” (v 27). So, there were gates from one end of the camp to the other. They had “borders.” The Torah is a book of borders and declarations.
Exo 32.28 says that the sons of Levi did what Moses instructed, and around three thousand people were slain. The tribe of Levi was made up of three sons, or family groups. We have Kohath (where Moses and Aaron came from), Gershon and Merari. These three sons constitute the tribe of Levi, and were the patriarchs of that tribe. The priests came from Aaron and his sons only. Basically, we are going to have 13 tribes. The tribe of Joseph has been divided into two tribes because of the double portion given to him. Those tribes are Ephraim and Manasseh. With the tribe of Levi, we have 13 tribes.
Now, these thousands and thousands of people come to stand with Moses “in the gate” (v 26). But only one complete tribe comes (Levi). The reason they come is to repent of the sin of the calf, and the majority of the tribes did come to Moses, even though they are not mentioned. But the whole tribe of Levi came. Moses tells Levi to go with their sword from “gate to gate” and slay everyone who did not repent.
Exo 32.29 says that Moses told them to dedicate themselves to the Lord, for every man has been against his son and against his brother in order that the Lord may bestow a blessing on them today. The word for “dedicate” is “milu” which is related to the word for the dedication of the kohanim (miluim). This words tells us what it means to accept authority. Literally it means to “fill your hand to the Lord.” This word is taken to mean that as a reward for their faithfulness and zealousness, they will be in charge of the Mishkan, and later the Temple. They are “kohanim-elect” in a sense like a “president-elect.” The president-elect does not have authority until he sworn in. The Levites did not have their authority until their dedication ceremony on Num 8.5-6. The tribe of Levi is set apart here.
All priests are Levites, but not all Levites are priests. Not all from Kohath are priests and Moses was not a priest because he was not a son of Aaron. But, all Levites will be set aside for the service of the Mishkan and the Temple. Remember, this chapter is in a chiastic structure of Chapters 25 through 40. Why did the people need a Mishkan and later a Temple?
People will say today “We don’t need a building built by man, we are the Temple.” First of all, the Temple was not built by man, it is from God. Zerubbabel was charged with building the Temple and it says in Zech 3.6 that it would not be built by the might and power of man, but by the Spirit of the Lord. The first thing God tells them in Exo 25.8-9 is to build him a Mishkan, and then there are 16 chapters about it in Exodus.
Why did the people need a Mishkan? They had not even heard the word “Mishkan” yet. They acted before Moses came back with that word. The reason the people needed the Mishkan was because of the Golden Calf. We need the Temple because of the Golden Calf. We have our own “golden calves” and things we use to represent the Lord that is forbidden in the camp.
People in some faiths believe that when you believe in “Jesus” that is the end of it, that’s where everything stops. On the contrary, that is where it begins. When Paul became a believer he didn’t stop being Torah observant, he really picked it up. He understood the Torah better because he saw Yeshua in it (Rom 10.4). In the same way, when one becomes a believer they should move toward the Torah and an understanding of the commandments. 271 commandments relate directly to the temple, that is nearly half of the 613 commandments in the Torah.
Do we want to understand the Torah, then we need to learn about the Mishkan/Temple. It will be the foundation of our understanding. All of this will be illuminated by the Spirit of God. Without it, we will be throwing gold into the fire and a calf will emerge and we will be calling it Yehovah. That is why we need a Temple and the concept of kedusha that is associated with it. This is why Exo 32 is not only the center point of a chiastic structure, but it is a turning point. But all of this is not over.
In Part 59 we will pick up here.